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Highly Reviewed Recordings

May 2 - May 15, 2012

LANGGAARD, R.: String Quartets, Vol. 1 (Nightingale String Quartet )
(Dacapo: 6.220575)

LANGGAARD, R.: String Quartets, Vol. 1 (Nightingale String Quartet )

These are remarkable works. Rued Langgaard was, as we now know, basically nuts. He composed nine string quartets, more or less, because some of them share movements (or revisions of movements). Most date from his early period, the late 1910s and early 1920s, before he turned bitter and was forced to endure the neglect of the Danish musical establishment. They feature a reckless variety of material and encompass a vast expressive range. For example, the titles of the Second Quartet’s four movements are: Storm Clouds Receding; Train Passing By; Landscape in Twilight; and The Walk. The Third Quartet has three movements variously headed Rapacious;  Artful (sound sample below); and Scoffing. Some might feel the music simply falls apart into a series of disconnected episodes. Maybe it does, but it is consistently entertaining, expressive, and curiously moving.

The performances here are marvelous, make no mistake. The Nightingale String Quartet relishes every bizarre nuance, from the chugging locomotive in the Second Quartet to the “Agitato orribilmente” and “Burlesco rustico” sections of the single-movement Sixth Quartet. But the playing never turns crude, and never indulges Langgaard’s wackier ideas at the expense of solid musical values. As if that weren’t enough, the program concludes with a mostly solemn series of variations on the hymn-tune “Oh, Sacred Head, Now Wounded”. Keeping this generally slow music moving purposefully forward is no mean feat, but these players manage it effortlessly. The sonics are warm, well balanced, and strikingly realistic. Langgaard was unquestionably a “character”, but he knew what he was doing. So do these players, and so does Dacapo in standing by him. Try this.

David Hurwitz,

LUTOSLAWSKI, W.: Orchestral Works, Vol. 2 - Symphonic Variations / Piano Concerto / Symphony No. 4 (Muzyka polska, Vol. 3) (BBC Symphony, Gardner)
(Chandos: CHSA5098)

LUTOSLAWSKI, W.: Orchestral Works, Vol. 2 - Symphonic Variations / Piano Concerto / Symphony No. 4 (Muzyka polska, Vol. 3) (BBC Symphony, Gardner)

Gramophone Choice April 2012 


The third volume in Chandos’s welcome Lutosławski series brings a second helping of purely orchestral fare…a performance as vivacious and committed as this one, it comprises a veritable treat, for the music is personable, resourceful and witty, and scored with colourful assurance to boot.

…Variations on a Theme of Paganini [is] a dazzlingly inventive showpiece for two pianos…Louis Lortie makes quite a splash with it…

Throughout, Gardner secures some first-class playing from the BBC SO; Ralph Couzens’s engineering is, needless to say, state-of-the-art. Cordially recommended…. © 2012 Gramophone

TCHAIKOVSKY, P.I.: Symphony No. 5 / SHOSTAKOVICH, D.: Festive Overture (Toulouse Capitol Orchestra, Sokhiev)
(Naïve: V5252)

TCHAIKOVSKY, P.I.: Symphony No. 5 / SHOSTAKOVICH, D.: Festive Overture (Toulouse Capitol Orchestra, Sokhiev)

Gramophone Choice April 2012 

How refreshing in a work of such familiarity to find oneself unable to take a single bar for granted…one which re-evaluates how phrasing relates to sound in pursuit of the greatest spontaneity.

This is a performance which sounds composed in the playing of it, which feels organic, and which probably owes a lot to the tutorage of the great Ilya Musin, who nurtured Sokhiev’s talent. There is a singing quality to all the playing… And the finale grandstands with aplomb… © 2012 Gramophone

MACKEY, S.: Lonely Motel: Music from Slide (Eckert, Mackey, eighth blackbird)
(Cedille: CDR90000-128)

MACKEY, S.: Lonely Motel: Music from Slide (Eckert, Mackey, eighth blackbird)


From beginning to end, Steven Mackey’s seamless musical fabric engages the ear as if it were charting sonic events in a shy and stuttering parallel universe.

…exhilarating project… rich rewards. It shows Eighth Blackbird as a force for good, and as a serious artistic collaborator on a very high scale, where the music entertains and pleases, and then goes on to something that provokes and stimulates. © 2012 Gramophone

ZIPORYN, E.: Big Grenadilla / Mumbai (Das, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Rose)
(Cantaloupe Music: CA-21081)

ZIPORYN, E.: Big Grenadilla / Mumbai (Das, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Rose) Deceptive Cadence

By whatever name you call it — Mumbai, Bombay, Bombaim — India's largest city is a culturally complicated and gloriously layered place. Despite its main train station being officially redubbed Chhatraptai Shivaji Terminus some years ago, I've never met a Mumbaikar (Mumbai resident) who calls it anything other than Victoria (as in the British queen) Terminus, or VT. In the Mumbai suburb of Bandra stands the Portuguese-era Castella de Aguada, aka the Bandra Fort. Mumbai isn't so much a melting pot as it is like chaat, the addictive snack sold all along its Chowpatty Beach: simultaneously spicy, sweet, savory and sour.

Those kinds of balances have long fascinated composer Evan Ziporyn. Along with teaching composition at MIT, Ziporyn is an expert in Balinese gamelan. He founded the wonderful Boston-based Gamelan Galak Tika and is a founding member of the ever eclectic New York-based new music collective Bang on a Can. Those cultural interchanges pervade Mumbai, a concerto for the expressive Indian percussion called the tabla.

In his written introduction to this recording, Ziporyn notes the upsetting circumstances that surrounded the composition of this work, which features tabla player Sandeep Das with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project and conductor Gil Rose. In 2008, just after Ziporyn began writing, terrorist attacks in Mumbai, including at VT, shook India and the rest of the world. As his response to those events, the piece's three movements became structured as Before, During and After. But Mumbai isn't a work that catalyzes grief. Instead, it's luminous and dreamlike, unfolding with a glow and a sense of wonder both intimate and soaring. This is music you climb inside as the tabla cuts through the gleaming strings.

Ziporyn's way of framing the excellent Das, a member of the Silk Road Ensemble, as soloist carries a deep satisfaction for lovers of Indian classical music. It wasn't all that long ago that this instrument (which is actually two drums, a right-handed drum that's the tabla proper and the left-handed, deeper-voiced drum called the bayan) weren't accepted within Indian classical music as worthy solo instruments. It was relegated instead as mere rhythmic accompaniment to singers or melodic instruments. It took the extraordinary talents of one virtuoso, Ustad Alla Rakha (the father of the very popular and gifted musician Zakir Hussain) to change that paradigm in the 1950s and 1960s. Given that tabla has been used for centuries, and that ancestral precursors like the double-headed pakhawaj have been around for even longer, the popularity of tabla in solo roles is, relatively speaking, brand new.

The companion piece, Big Grenadilla, is an amazing, virtuosic showpiece for bass clarinet, played by Ziporyn himself with Rose and the BMOP. And this brief 14-minute concerto is in itself worth a serious visit. A concerto for the hulking and awkward bass clarinet, you may ask? Yes, most assuredly and delightfully so — at least as long as it's in Ziporyn's hands. Here the terrain is more like a stage at an indie rock show than a meditative landscape. At the beginning, his clarinet growls and buzzes like an electric guitar — and by the end, Ziporyn is wailing away like a rock legend, bathed in the light of the orchestra's pumping, frenetic energy. It's a whole other side of Ziporyn, a composer as variegated as the cultures he celebrates.

Anastasia Tsioulcas, US National Public Radio

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